Nederlands Dans Theater Artistic Director Paul Lightfoot has a special enthusiasm for his acclaimed troupe’s youthful training company, Nederlands Dans Theater 2.
“It’s wonderful working with them, because I treasure their energy and drive,” says the choreographer, an NDT2 graduate who brings the Dutch group to San Francisco for its local premiere next week.
The troupe, a laboratory and launching pad for dancers ages 18 to 25, is an adjunct of Nederlands Dans Theater, which, since it was established in 1959, has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most innovative contemporary ballet companies.
Monday’s program at the Palace of Fine Arts offers diverse works from four international choreographers, all displaying NDT’s and NDT2’s highly physical and superbly technical storytelling. The show opens with “Shutters Shut,” a four-minute piece by Lightfoot and his wife, company artistic adviser Sol León, which incorporates a recitation of “If I told him,” a poem by Gertrude Stein.
“We had to do a ballet in which the dancers speak, and Sol (who is Spanish) was insecure because she didn’t speak the language,” says Lightfoot. He suggested they listen to people speaking English. “We found this 1916 recording of Gertrude Stein, and said, ‘Wow, look what she does with these words!” The meaning gets lost but the rhythm is expressed in the dance.”
Lightfoot and Leon’s 2003 “Subject to Change,” winner of the Netherlands’ 2003 Zwann award, is a nonliteral but highly emotional piece set to Schubert’s string quartet “Death of the Maiden.” It was created around the sudden death of one of the dancers from a brain hemorrhage, an event that rocked the lives of the young artists. Lightfoot calls it one of the “most important pieces in our oeuvre.”
Swedish choreographer Johann Inger’s “I Knew Then,” performed to music by Van Morrison, expresses the challenges young people face growing up, as they find their identity and learn how to be in relationships.
“Sara,” the program’s final and perhaps most technically challenging work, is by Israeli choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. Eyal, formerly of the Batsheva dance company, also is a DJ who has her finger on the pulse of club life.
“It’s a highly minimalist piece,” says Lightfoot.“ “The dancers practically stay in the same space for the entire time. But the detail and meticulousness requires tremendous control – there’s a lot of isolation work. It’s somewhat brittle, but at the same time it’s a tender and poetic work.”
IF YOU GO
Nederlands Dans Theater 2
Where: Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16
Tickets: $35 to $95